Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pat Robertson: Still Preaching Idiocy



Robertson
For more than 30 years, Republicans have been kowtowing to Marion Gordon “Pat” Robertson, the host of the ultraconservative religious show called The 700 Club.  He’s a former Southern Baptist minister who also serves as Chancellor of Regent University, which he founded, and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network.  Son of a U.S. Senator, he is also credited with creating the ABC Family Channel, the American Center for Law & Justice, and the Christian Coalition.

The Kentucky native who graduated from Yale Law School was once a credible, although ultimately unsuccessful, presidential candidate.  He has power, authority and millions of followers.  For decades, he has been the voice and face of conservative Christians.

He also must have a taste for shoe leather given how often he sticks his foot in his mouth. 

About 4.5 billion years old
Not that long ago, he ran afoul of the religious fanatics in his audience by conceding that science has proved that the Earth is really billions of years old and not the few thousand they fervently believe.  That seemingly simply agreement with hard data created a strange situation for him:  it essentially undercut claims of Bible accuracy, the bedrock of his beliefs and those of his followers.

Now, he’s taking on another fundamental Christian belief after receiving the following question from a viewer of his show.  Even conceding that anyone watching his program has to be mortally stupid, this question touched new depth:

A woman said, “I buy a lot of clothes and other items at Goodwill and other secondhand shops. Recently, my mom told me that I need to pray over the items, bind familiar spirits, and bless the items before I bring them into the house. Is my mother correct? Can demons attach themselves to material items?”

Robertson’s answer was somehow even more moronic:

Demonic Goodwill clothing
“Can demonic spirits attach themselves to inanimate objects? The answer is yes. But I don't think every sweater you get from Goodwill has demons in it. But in a sense, your mother's just being super cautious so hey, it isn't gonna hurt you any to rebuke any spirits that happen to have attached themselves to those clothes.”

Evil spirits attach to clothes?  That sounds familiar, but not in Christian beliefs.  In modern Wicca, which Christian fundamentalists dismiss as witchcraft, all objects contain spirits.  Ancient Druids thought the same thing.  So did ancient Greeks and Romans.

Of course.  In Robertson’s view, modern, conservative Christians, so condescending and smug, apparently are nothing more than pagans in sheep’s clothing. 

Even granting that Robertson is 82 and may not be thinking as clearly, this is breathtakingly imbecilic.  In fact, his view is so inane that it almost reaches the depths of other things he has said over the years. 

Here are a few gems:



1)      "The Constitution of the United States, for instance, is a marvelous document for self-government by the Christian people. But the minute you turn the document into the hands of non-Christian people and atheistic people they can use it to destroy the very foundation of our society. And that's what's been happening."

Caused by gays?
2)      "The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians."

3)      "If the widespread practice of homosexuality will bring about the destruction of your nation… it'll bring about earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor.”

He’s not fond of Islam either, calling the world’s fastest-growing faith with more than 1 billion adherents a “religion of chaos” that is almost “demonic.”  It’s not really a religion, he also said, but “an economic and political system with a religious veneer.”

Maybe viewers turn on his show because they think it’s a comedy.  Or, maybe, fundamentalists really are the imbeciles that Robertson takes them for.  In that case, he's the perfect mirror.



Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1

Monday, February 25, 2013

O'Reilly Book on Jesus to Struggle with Facts



O'Reilly

Bill O’Reilly, that always accurate host of a Fox commentary television show, a network known for its “fair and unbiased” lies, is writing a new book titled Killing Jesus.

I thought that meant he was planning to pull out a AK-47 and blaze away, especially considering the gun-control discussion going on in this country.  However, it turns out that O’Reilly – or rather the real writer, his “co-author” Martin Dugard – plan to look at the death of Jesus some 2,000 years ago.

Good luck with that.

In the first place, this is only the millionth time or so someone has done that.  Of course, none have carried Bill O’Reilly’s name before, but none of been accurate either. 

Scene from the Passion movie
That’s because there are no facts to go on.  Mel Gibson must have discovered that when he did his movie on the same topic in 2004, The Passion of the Christ.  He didn’t base it on the accounts in the New Testament. Instead, he relied on the mythical dreams of a 19th century German nun.  No doubt she was right on the mark.

Not even the holy Gospel accounts that most use as a base are accurate.  They simply don’t agree where Jesus died, what happened in at his “trial” or anything else.  Do they agree he was crucified.  That’s not much to base a new book on, especially since some historians today even disagree with that claim.  They believe it’s a later addition to the text.

Cohn
O’Reilly plans to blame the Romans, who, correctly, are the only authorities who crucified anyone in those days.  On the other hand, the biblical accounts of the trial are totally wrong, calling into question that important event. Haim Cohn, an Israeli Supreme Court justice and historian, detailed how inaccurate the stories are in his book The Trial and Death of Jesus Christ.

He is neither the first or last to do that.

Just for starters, the Gospels insist Pontius Pilate met with the crowds outside the courtroom.  However, Roman judges were never seen – they sat behind curtains – and never conversed with anyone.  If Pilate really had asked the crowd for guidance, he would have lost his position as soon as the Emperor heard of it.

The only known records of the trial were supposedly released several hundred years after Jesus must have died and immediately vanished.  Obviously, if they had supported Christian teachings, those records would have been required reading – whether or not they were forgeries.

Schweitzer
A variety of real historians have examined all the evidence.  It doesn’t take long.  There isn’t any.  Dr. Albert Schweitzer in his classic 1906 book Quest for the Historical Jesus concluded that all “facts” about Jesus are based on mythology.  Dr. Charles Guinebert’s famed book Jesus also examined every aspect of Jesus’ life and conceded that “he was born, lived, crucified and died.”  Everything else, the late Christian religion professor at the Sorbonne said, is conjecture.

No one can even say when Jesus died.  Historians place the year from 30 to 33 C.E. simply because any other time doesn’t seem plausible.  Pilate, Jesus’ supposed judge, was in power in Judea from 26 to 36.  However, John the Baptist died around 35, and the Gospel insists that John died before Jesus. 

That creates a real timing problem.  Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great and leader of a small part of what was then the Syrian province of Rome, lost a war in 36, which the historian of the day, Josephus, said residents blamed because Antipas had killed John the Baptist.  John then must have died close enough to the end of the war for anyone to make the connection.

As a result, there’s no time for Jesus to have died before Pilate was recalled to Rome in January 37.

Moreover, Passover did not begin on a Friday through the 30s, although three of the Gospels place the trial on a Friday and call it the first day of Passover.  John places the trial one day before Passover starts.

In short, there’s nothing for O’Reilly and his colleague to base a history on.  Maybe that’s why O’Reilly said in a prepared statement that the book "will recount the seismic political and historical events" that made the death of the "beloved and controversial young revolutionary" known as Jesus of Nazareth inevitable.  “Jesus Christ has not walked among us physically for more than 2,000 years, yet his presence today is felt the world over and his spirit is worshiped by more than 2.2 billion people.  His teachings, his legacy, his life as a flesh-and-blood man and his death created the world in which we live.”
Fredriksen

If the book focuses on the impact Jesus has had on our world, then O’Reilly is on solid ground.  Of course, he won’t be the first to do that either.  Much of it will have to be made up, too.  Just asked Dr. Paula Fredriksen, whose classic 1988 book From Jesus to Christ reveals how little is known about that era.

O’Reilly will just have to make up his information.  That should be no problem for him.  He does work for Fox after all. 

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1

Thursday, February 21, 2013

New Pope Faces Huge Challenges


Benedict XVI

The Roman Catholic Church has a lot to contemplate these days as its leaders survey its empty cathedrals and meet next week to choose a new leader.  Pope Benedict XVI, 85, has abruptly resigned, weighed down by age.  However, he will remain in the Vatican.  That way he will have diplomatic immunity against any possible charges brought by prosecutors in the on-going sexual abuse scandal that has scourged his and his predecessor’s papacies.

In case, the Church needs a reminder of the cowardly and embarrassing actions of its leaders, Cardinal Roger Mahony, who lost his post in California after Church documents showed his complicity in covering up the abuse there, will be eligible to vote for the new pope.  Other Church leaders have encouraged him not to attend the session, happily maintaining the consistent Church policy of covering up a problem rather than dealing with it.

Then, too, the Church has to cope with the souring number of “lapsed” Catholics and the overall decline in the faith.  The outgoing pope even held a conference in 2012 to discuss ways to carry the message to the millions who were born to Catholic parents and have stopped participating.  One archbishop estimated that 12 percent of all Catholics could now be considered to have lapsed.

A rare baptism in a Catholic church
While actual figures are sketchy, the numbers who once turned to the Church for rituals such as baptism, marriage and funerals have declined sharply in the United States and in Europe.

At the same time, the Church faces growing opposition to long-term social positions.  Surveys of lapsed Catholics find they object to the Church’s hard-line stances against abortion, homosexuality and artificial birth control.  A smaller group opposes the Church’s rigid opposition to women priests.

The end result is that, according to an October 2012 study, a large chunk of Americans no longer considered themselves affiliated with any religious organization.  The Pew Research Center, which regularly surveys Americans on religious topics, called that a “gradual softening of religious commitment.” 

It’s more than that:  in the last five years, the percent of religious unaffiliated grew from 38 to 49 percent while the number claiming an affiliation dropped from 60 percent to 50 percent in the same time period.

The survey found that 29 percent of all American adults “seldom or never” attend religious services.”

Catholics in the Caribbean
Meanwhile, the entire axis of the Church has changed.  According to the 2012 report from the Pew Research Center, most Catholics now live in Latin America and the Caribbean.  In 1910, in contrast, the vast majority were in Europe.

That means selecting yet another white European pope will disappoint a vast number of believers.

Then, too, the embarrassing leak of secret Vatican documents in 2012 has demonstrated that the Church is like any other large institution: a seething hotbed of ambitious and deceitful people competing for favors.  No Holy Ghost in sight.  If that didn’t make the aging pope quit, nothing would have.  

The Church is also beset by scientific and historical findings that have undercut its most cherished claims.  One solution has been for popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to publicly accept the accuracy of research involving evolution and the existence of the universe.  God wasn’t involved with either.  As a result, two basic props under the faith are gone, leaving little for a Father or Son to do.

At the same time, the Church has not found a new model for its own existence.  Its message has been shot through of holes without anyway to plug the leaks.

The same scientific shotgun has also pierced Protestant teachings as well. Evangelicals can try to muffle dissent and push creationist models into education, but they, too, must confront the reality of hard evidence.  Facts trump belief every time, leaving true believers to sputter about faith.

Idealized image of St. Malachy
Fewer people are buying that hokum these days.

The new pope will have to deal with all of these problems, but maybe not for long.  In the 12th century, Irish archbishop St. Malachy supposedly predicted all 112 popes, ending with Peter “when Rome, the seat of the Vatican, will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people.”

The next pope is supposed to be the 112th.  Benedict XVI is really the 265th, but that counts all the antipopes that populated Church history.  However, given what the new pope will face, he may want to read up on St. Malachy before accepting the job.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1